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Dungeon Defenders Review

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On 10/28/2011 at 08:00 PM by Jason Ross

The menus. The complications. The convoluted menus. The mind-blowing tutorial. Oh, and there's a very good tower defense game in here, too.

Buy it if you're the type of gamer who stays up until three in the morning to play StarCraft with a group of friends, or if you've ever found yourself saying “Just one more stage...” Avoid it if you can't stand murking around in a mess of menus that offer serious confusion and disorientation.

Dungeon Defenders is really a simple, enjoyable game. It's tower defense. Enemies spawn at a few points, walk a set path, and attack a crystal at the end of the path. The heroes in the game summon towers and fight back the orcs, goblins, and trolls, defending the crystals from destruction. It's a standard idea with up to four simultaneous players all working together to defend the crystals from all attacks.

But Dungeon Defenders is almost broken. While much of the game is simple to pick up, fun to play, and dozens of hours of addicting, a section of the game – one not even related to gameplay – threatens to spoil the entire offering. Yes, the menus in the game are a mess. In my history of gaming, I have struggled to identify a video game that offers as much confusion and discord in its menus as those found in Dungeon Defenders. Rather than operate the same way conventional gaming menus work, where there's a cursor that can be moved with the analog stick (or d-pad), where selections are made by a single button and it's possible to cancel or back-out of a section with another button, in each menu, every button is a hot key.

It's like a PC game without a mouse. In every menu, there's a completely new set of items, boxes of text, and pop-up menus. In the item box, upon highlighting an item, rather than showing the item's stats in a box to the side allowing comparison to the currently equipped items, a box pops up over the current menu, showing what stats the new item increases and decreases. A few moments later, a second pop-up appears to the right, showing the currently equipped item's properties. Sounds simple on paper, but in practice, it's disorienting. The character stat screen isn't much better, but is more manageable. The shop is even worse. While Dungeon Defenders is very enjoyable to play, the menus do the game no favors.

Also troublesome is the game's opening “quick” tutorial. When I ran into the tutorial, and Nick can vouch for this, as he was watching it in the PlayBit, he and I were both completely puzzled. Fact after fact, ability after ability, item after item whizzed by, as an opening video confounded us rather than provide any illumination. After it was over, I felt I was about two steps back from where I began. I knew there was a crystal to protect, but after the video, I had no idea how to do it. Eventually I picked things up. The R1 button opens a menu to alter towers, and the R2 button attacks - that's about all I needed to know to start enjoying the game.

Along the way, more towers and more abilities were unlocked for my character. There are 20 different types of towers to place in the game, five for each character class, and not all characters seemed to have been created equal, though this assessment could be a matter of judgment. Much of my playtime was spent in co-op and online, both of which function very well, and in most cases, the Squire seemed to be the most effective class for blocking away and killing monsters. This isn't an unexpected tragedy. Virtually all games have balance issues here and there, a small cost of affording players flexibility and customization. All the classes work well together, but the most enjoyable experience is often found when no single class is in a game more than once.

The game's many stages all have unique qualities and a different atmosphere. Early stages appear to actually occur inside dungeons, while later levels bring the fight upstairs, and takes you to the heroes' throne room, outside, and onto the roof of the group's castle. After several stages, a boss will appear, requiring all the warriors to completely alter how they play the game, focusing on one individual enemy with a unique attack pattern while also continuing to slaughter hordes of enemies. Once the boss has been defeated and the player graduates to the next group of stages all of which have one more crystal than before. Advancing through Dungeon Defenders provides a nice learning curve and offers a little bit of variety into the Tower Defense genre.

Let me be the first to say that winning a round of the game with several different players and/or classes feels great. Rewards are given in the form of equipment and mana, which is used to build towers and after battles, upgrade items and buy equipment for later fights. Defenders will want the best gear for each round of the game, because during stages, hundreds and thousands of enemies will pour out from their spawning stations, and naturally, every single one of them has to be killed. Classes like the Squire will likely choose to attack the monsters directly, and they do fight back. Towers can be placed either on the edges of the stage or directly in their paths in order to maim the aggressors, block them from the crystals, or both. After each wave of monsters, there's a build phase to gather materials and construct and upgrade towers. In action, the game works superbly, though I was surprised to find the camera's movement and available angles a little disorienting in both modes when it is above and behind the character. Along with the main mode of the game, there are incredible challenges, including a grueling insane difficulty with forced limitations on build phases and special modes with altered rules and gameplay mechanics.

For tower defense fans and fans of online and offline co-op gaming, Dungeon Defenders contends to be the ultimate package – until a menu is reached. With the menus, portions of the game are virtually intolerable. In a sense, one could say Dungeon Defenders offers gamers a glimpse at the constant battle of good and evil, yin and yang, and menus vs. gameplay.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



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